(Editor’s note: This is the next in a series in which the Times Herald and Bradford Era will be presenting the best season/team accomplishment for every school in the Big 30. The staffs at both papers made a singular selection for each school in conjunction with current and former coaches and athletic directors. Today: Wellsville.)
WELLSVILLE — Choosing one great team out of Wellsville High School’s storied athletic history is no easy task.
The school had the famed “Goose Egg” 1976 football team, which after losing its opener, outscored teams 223-0 over the final seven games. It had decades worth of strong baseball teams coached by Dennie Miles, including the 1990 Section 5 Class A champions, and similarly strong softball teams coached by Frank Cady, including 1995. More recently, the school had a boys track dual meet win streak of 70 through 2004-05 and won its first Section 5 boys basketball championship in 2010 and made the Far West Regional in 2016.
But the 1994 girls volleyball team remains Wellsville’s only NYSPHSAA team champion.
FOR COACH Bob Kozlowski, that 1994 campaign, an undefeated 25-0 season, was the culmination of a stellar three-year run: in 1992, the Lions were 22-2 and they went 24-1 in 1993 with a loss in the sectional final.
“We were doing well going into that (year) and Kelly Golish, she just pulled us through everything,” said Kozlowski, who coached girls volleyball from 1981-2006 for a record of 403-131, including 11 sectional titles. “She just hit well, blocked, digged, served, did everything really well and I think that’s basically the reason that we won. We did have other kids that were tall like Jessica Regan, Tonia Artlip, they were 6-foot girls that helped us out.”
Golish, Regan and Artlip were all seniors and co-captains in 1994.
“Going through the years, they got better each year and by the time they were seniors, they were really on top of their game,” Kozlowski said. “That’s what did it for us — although we did well the following year, in ‘95, we lost to Spencerport in the state semifinals — I would say it was because they were seniors, because they had a lot of time on the court, a number of years that they were playing. It all kind of clicked and came to a climax there at the finals.”
The Lions had seven team members who now are in Wellsville’s Athletic Hall of Fame, many for multiple sports: Golish (‘95, volleyball), Artlip (‘95, volleyball, basketball), Traci Richardson (‘96, volleyball, golf), Sarah Synakowski (‘96, volleyball, basketball, track), Katie Joy (‘97, volleyball, track) and Lauren Schmidt (‘99, volleyball, basketball, track). Kozlowski is also in Wellsville’s Hall of Fame as a coach. Golish made the all-state first team, Richardson made the second team and Jennifer Smith made the fifth team.
Artlip, who now lives in Idaho, recalled a tight-knit group of girls, from freshmen up to her senior class on the ‘94 team.
“We were all really good friends outside of playing on the team,” Artlip said. “I think that helped because we were able to communicate well, both off the court and on the court. Personally, I think that was a huge dynamic. We also had a lot of support, a lot of our parents were all there. We just really enjoyed playing together.”
Leading up to the state title, Wellsville had to get past a fellow undefeated: Horseheads, a “really tough match,” according to Artlip.
“We knew going into it they were undefeated and so were we, but the girls were just towering over us,” she said. “I mean, I was 5-11, 6-foot and these chicks were just 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. We knew going into that it was going to be a challenge but we ended up taking them and that was one of the highlights that I personally remember is winning against that team.”
WHILE THE Lions had fun together, playing for Kozlowski was far from a breeze, Artlip admitted. He put the team through stations each day in practice, which she said built up volleyball skills and athleticism.
“We were practicing to beat Horseheads,” Artlip said. “There were like 20 or 30 stations that we had in practice and they were miserable. But now I know why we were doing them, we were doing them because we were working on all these agilities for us and different muscle groups. But oh my gosh, he had us doing those every practice and they were one or two minutes each and they were really hard.
“He was tough, I’m not going to lie. He had a sense of humor, but we didn’t see it often. I think I was the one who was always trying to bring it out of him. Back then he had this wild and crazy hairstyle. When we’d win a match, I’d do something with his hair and he would get so upset but everybody would laugh. We just tried to keep it fun. I always joked with him that if we won, we were going to shave his head, but he never let us do it.”
But even after the state championship, Kozlowski’s curly locks remained.
“That’s probably what they wanted, but there’s no way that I would have done that,” Kozlowski said with a laugh. “Even if they would have loved that, I would never agree to it.”
The undefeated season came down to the championship match, at Glens Falls, against City Honors, a Section 6 powerhouse. It only took three games (15-7, 16-14, 16-14), but they were all close, Kozlowski said, and he attempted to relax his team as it neared the match point.
“It was looking at the very end of the third game that we were going to win,” Kozlowski recalled. “We had a timeout, or the other team called a timeout, and I’m trying to tell the girls, I say, ‘Just relax. Don’t go getting crazy and nuts ... if you win this and pull this off, make it look like this was nothing.’ I was trying to talk to them like we were supposed to win, like it was no big deal. Of course when we won, they went nuts: they were jumping all over each other, falling on the floor, It just was so funny. After I tell them, ‘Make it look like it was supposed to be like that, like it was no big deal,’ and sure enough they went nuts.”
For Artlip, there was no chance they could simply relax with a championship in their grasp.
“I do remember that, it was like, ‘Just be relaxed and calm,’” she said. “I’m like, what are you talking about? No. So I think as a team we were calm at first and then we saw the stands and all of our families and they were going nuts. So I think that just made us go nuts. There’s a picture, we’re all jumping up and down. They caught us up in that moment. That was a cool experience.”
All that was left was the ride home on a perfect season.
“I remember the bus ride home was fantastic and the firetrucks when we got into Wellsville,” Kozlowski said. “There was yelling and singing and all that… it was very exciting.”